Other pebbles on the soccer beach

August 27, 1955
“Supposing football isn’t as clever, as entertaining as it was, there must be an explanation. Mr. William John Harrop, chairman of Liverpool F.C., vice-president of the Football League, member of the FA Council, puts it down to … other pebbles on the soccer beach.”

One of the most contentious of all football arguments relates to the standard of present-day play particularly, in comparison with that of pre-war. We are constantly being told that modern football is decidedly inferior, even paltry, compared with what it once was.

I hope I have not reached that deplorable and crochetty stage, said to afflict the elderly, where the present has little to commend it and nothing seems as good as it used to be.

Having said that, I must honestly confess that, to my mind, despite the tremendous advance in coaching technique since the war, football to-day does not appear as entertaining or attractive as it was thirty or forty years ago.

Possibly the fault is with me rather than in actual fact. I realise only too well that we tend to look at the past through rosy spectacles and sometimes unwittingly brighten and glorify it in retrospect.

Making all allowances for that, I still feel there is something lacking to-day. Rightly or wrongly I hold the opinion that there is not the same craft, subtlety and individual brilliance that we used to enjoy.

At one time it was the ambition of every youngster with any football ability to become a professional. It seemed to him a glamorous and attractive life. If he proved good enough to embark on it he was in the seventh heaven of delight.

To achieve that end he was prepared to work hard. Nothing was too much trouble. He would practice almost every waking moment and was rarely satisfied that he had done enough.

I am afraid, alas, that there is a vastly different spirit abroad to-day and tat it is not entirely confined to football. The younger generation in almost all walks of life seems more concerned to get the maximum financial return for the minimum of effort. They will not work at anything with the persistence and determination of their fathers and grandfathers.

Little stability
The unsettling effect of the last war, plus the disturbed state of the world over recent years, is largely responsible. The young see comparatively little stability or certainty about the future so maybe one should not blame them too much if they seek the maximum possible pleasure out of life while the opportunity is there. As some of them tersely put it, you are a long time dead!

Another thing tending to lower the general all-round Soccer standard to-day is the prevalence of som many varied forms of ready-made entertainment. Before the cinema and television and other modern attractions the young had to make their own entertainment. The most popular outlet with boys was football. They would play anywhere, at any time, and proved the truth of the old adage that “practice makes perfect.”

I remember how the North-East, the mining districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and many other working-class areas once produced a seemingly unending supply of promising footballers. Hundreds of these eventually reach the highest pinnacle of success.

Apart fro not working at the game hard enough, the life of a footballer is not so outstandingly attractive as of old. In these days of full employment there are many jobs with excellent financial inducement which demand for less concentrated effort than involved in attaining football stardom.

Nevertheless, the life of a professional footballer is still an exceedingly good one. The overage player with a First or Second Division club makes around £900 a year, including benefit, retirement pay and bonuses. If he reaches the very top and gets international caps he does even better. There are, of course, many other advantages, such as Continental trips, weekends in luxurious hotels, occasional spells of special seaside training, and so on.

There is greater scope to-day for promising youngsters than ever before, but only if they are prepared to work hard and get their noses down to the grindstone.

Some with outstanding natural ability may get through with less effort but these are few and far between.

While I am all for plenty of coaching on excess of it tends to cast players too much in one stereotyped mould. It robs the of originality. The latter can also be eradicated by unthinking spectators, who lose patience with good ball players and urge them to “get rid of it.”

Good coaching
Within reason, and consistent with general team tactics, I am in favour of allowing intelligent players every opportunity to develop their own personalities and individual skill.

At the same time I must pay tribute to the excellence of the coaching schemes run by the FA.

During the recent close season the Liverpool club sent some of its younger professional to an FA course at Lilleshall. Our manager Mr. Don Welsh, also went for a few days to see them at work. He was extremely impressed at the very thorough and competent manner in which the stars of the future are being handled.

In due course this work, which is going on at several centres, should result in both individual improvement and better team performances.

The FA deserve every praise for their efforts. But in the long run it will depend on the individual, and particularly on his determination and persistence, whether the progress the game’s legislators would like to see is fully achieved.

The only thing I am concerned about is that players should not be handicapped in expressing their own individually. I sometimes feel football is modelled rather too much on one plan and that most matches are pretty much the same.

In former days the leading teams all had attractive styles of their own, many differing considerably from their rivals. Aston Villa, for instance, even if in different colours and under another name, would have been recognizable at once by the distinctive way they set about their task.

Those contracts
A frequent source of argument in football circles relates to the players’ contracts. Many wild and woolly suggestions have been made, some frankly ridiculous, others kindly meant but impracticable. It must be obvious to all that football clubs cannot possibly be run on a sound basis unless each club retains some hold on its players. If they were allowed to leave without hindrance at the end of each season the game would soon be in a state of chaos.

Many clubs take boys under their wing as soon as they have left school. They spend a lot of money training them as amateurs, pay good wages from the age of 17, and gradually endeavour over many years to turn them into first-class players.

I am not suggesting that all this is done disinterestedly. Not by any means. The clubs embark on these long-term plans in the hope of turning the raw material into the finished article, capable of going into the first team and holding down a regular place.

The player, however, is gaining considerable advantage. He is being well paid while he is being taught his job. It would be manifestly unfair if he could pack his bags, wave a fond farewell and leave in the lurch the club which had spent so much time and trouble over him as soon as he reached top grade.

Keeping him there
Similarly with players for whom big fees are paid. If a club has spent £10,000 or £20,000 on a star man they want to feel reasonably certain he will remain with them while they get some of the money back.

A contract of three or more years, which has been suggested, is not the ideal solution some people imagine. As in any other walk of life, incentive counts. Secure in the knowledge that they were guaranteed work for three or four years some players would not put full effort into their play as they have to do now if they are to maintain their place.

At Liverpool we have had many examples over the years of great players. Men like Billy Liddell, Phil Taylor, Jack Balmer, Bob Paisley and other shave never given the club a moment’s anxiety.

I feel that players of that calibre should be rewarded more than the here-to-day-and-gone-to-morrow type. That can be done by fairly simple scheme, which I shall talk about later.

(Source: Liverpool Echo: August 27, 1955; via http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited

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